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'I Carry Them With Me Everywhere I Go'
When Cpl. Darron Dale tucked a rosary inside his flak vest, he never imagined the close call that lay ahead.
In a firefight with the Taliban in Afghanistan's Helmand province in late July, the M240B machine gunner on Dale's team was shot in the foot.
"I'm hit! I'm hit!" the gunner called. Dale bounded forward to take over the gun, as other Marines pulled the wounded comrade to safety. But as Dale moved he was shot three times in his back armored plate.
"It threw me to the ground," said Dale, of 3rd Platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. He felt liquid running down his back and assumed he was bleeding, but still took up the machine gun and fired back.
In fact, the liquid was leaking water. The bullets had punctured holes in his camel back canteen and the cloth covering of his body armor.Continue reading this post »
Marine Finds Solace in Combat Baptism
MIANPOSHTEH, Afghanistan -- The bravado of Marines fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province is punctuated by quiet moments of questioning and introspection.
A few Marines ask why they survived when their best friends did not. Others question how they will deal with the stress of combat. Many wonder what people back home know about their actions here.
Spirituality is a source of solace. Lance Cpl. Zachary Ludwig, 20, of Marco Island, Florida, wanted to be baptized before he and thousands of other Marines pushed deep into Taliban-held territory beginning early this month.
But it was not until this week that Chaplain Navy Lt.. Terry A. Roberts arrived at Ludwig's tiny outpost in the southern village of Mianposhteh to perform the ceremony.Continue reading this post »
For Marines, War is No Excuse for Looking Shaggy
Even in a war zone, certain customs must be upheld. So when Fox Company of 2nd Battlion, 8th Marine Regiment returned from a several-day mission, the non-commissioned officers were already berating young lance corporals for their shaggy looking hair.
The next morning, Fox Company's 3rd Platoon was abuzz -- literally -- with the sound of electric razors. Marines, some quite expert, and others obviously novices, volunteered to execute regulation Marine Corps haircuts by the dozen.
From black plastic boxes, the barbers pulled out razors, scissors, and green smocks to drape around their customers. Style-wise, the choices came down to "low", "medium", or "high and tight" -- meaning the level on the head of the distinctive line of the Marine Corps haircut. ("Low" being within regulation, but somewhat frowned upon.)Continue reading this post »
U.S. Deaths Reach A Record High In Afghanistan
By Ann Scott Tyson and Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writers
GARMSIR, Afghanistan, July 21 -- U.S. deaths in Afghanistan have surged to a record high this month and are likely to remain elevated as American and NATO forces settle into outposts in southern Afghan villages and cities where Taliban forces have traditionally been the strongest.
The rising death toll comes as the country prepares for a presidential election next month, and could erode U.S. public support for a war that is already among the longest in U.S. history.
"This is probably the new normal," said Seth G. Jones, an analyst for the Rand Corp. and author of a new book on the U.S. military's nearly eight-year-old war in Afghanistan. "I'd actually be shocked if casualties didn't continue to increase."
Dutch Commander Says More Troops Needed in South
The top commander for 30,000 U.S. and international troops in southern Afghanistan said today that he still needs more coalition forces to provide security in the south, but that his priority is to gain more Afghan security forces.
Royal Netherlands Army Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif said that the next phase of the counterinsurgency campaign here will focus on extending security throughout Taliban areas of central Helmand province as well as the city of Kandahar. Those missions are labor intensive and require more "boots on the ground," he said in an interview.
De Kruif said plans were underway to keep the Afghan forces that are currently in the south and bring in reinforcements of both Army and police in "a couple of months." He said he could not provide more details.Continue reading this post »
Marines' Mission: Destroying Poppy
Marines who raided a bazaar in a Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand last weekend were left with an unusual problem: What to do with the 4,000 bags of opium poppy and explosives material uncovered during the raid?
First, they tried to burn it, but that failed.
Next, they considered bombing it, but the Air Force declined.
So the Marines hauled the sacks out to the desert and waged an all-out campaign destroy them with their own weaponry. They blasted the pile with fourteen shoulder-fired missiles, lobbed several mortars at it, and finally blew it up with C-4 explosives.
It took a full day, and surely mystified Afghan herdsmen encamped in the area, where there has been no significant presence of Afghan or coalition forces.
Perhaps it counts as target practice.
Ordnance Expert on Taliban IEDs
U.S. Marines in Helmand province and coalition forces in many parts of Afghanistan face a growing threat from improvised explosive devices laid by Taliban fighters. An ordnance expert explains why the bombs are so lethal.
Taliban Fighters Resist Marines' Advance
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
GARMSIR, Afghanistan, July 19 -- Marines pushing deep into a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province battled insurgents in a day of firefights around a key bazaar Sunday, as an operation designed as a U.S. show of force confronted resistance from Taliban fighters as well as constraints on supplies and manpower.
Insurgents at times showed unexpected boldness as they used machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to fight the advancing Marine forces. Although the Marines overpowered the Taliban with more sophisticated weapons, including attack helicopters, the clashes also indicated that the drive by about 4,500 Marines to dislodge the Taliban from its heartland in Helmand is running up against logistical hurdles.
The firefights erupted a day after the Marines raided Lakari Bazaar in Garmsir district, a market that the Taliban has long used to store and make weapons and drugs, as well as to levy taxes on civilians. The Taliban until now had free rein in the area because there had been virtually no Western or Afghan government presence.
"This has been their turf for a long time, and now we are in here, invading their space," said Capt. John Sun, Fox Company commander, at his makeshift headquarters in a fabric stall inside the bazaar. "The bazaar was a huge financial and logistics base for the Taliban, and they want to get that back."
Marines Raid Bazaar
U.S. Marines raided a bazaar in a major Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, Afghanistan, this weekend, turning up thousands of bags of opium poppy and explosive materials. On Sunday the Marines came under repeated attack from Taliban fighters firing machine guns, mortars, and grenades.